Laughlines by William Thomas
Many years ago like this one, I found myself travelling through Western New York on a team bus with 18 minor league wannabees who were trying to scale the mountain known as major league baseball. I had written a script for Chasing The Dream and accompanied the doc crew to the Dominican Republic, Florida and much of New York State. We filmed games in old, and often, gorgeous ballparks in small-town America – Jamestown, Oneonta, Auburn and Glens Falls.
In rural America, baseball is a point of pride and at times, a kind of cabaret of the absurd – animal mascots pretend to pee on the visitor’s dugout and bazookas shoot wrapped hot dogs 20 rows up into the bleachers.
During the filming, I became the “colour guy”. It was my job to find ballpark eccentrics like the hippie who gave free haircuts to fans at home plate during the seventh-inning stretch and the guy who swallowed enough air to burp the national anthem. And so it was, on a sultry, windless afternoon in Glens Falls, NY, I discovered and interviewed the only season-ticket-subscribing dog in baseball history.
A dog bark in a ballpark is an unusual sound, not to mention – “No Pets Allowed” – illegal. But there he was in the stands behind home plate, this mangy beige poodle chasing foul balls and growling at the hitters on the St. Catharines Blue Jays team.
His name was Pete and his owners, Dutch and Biddie, were in their 70s, plump, pleasant, Friday-go-to-the-legion-fish-fry kind of people. Dutch referred to his wife as “the old Biddie” and every time he said that, she found it in her heart not to kick him in the wedding tackle.
The story was simple enough, Dutch and Biddie loved their dog, baseball and apple pie. Pete also loved baseball, so in order for the whole family to enjoy America’s pastime at the home games of the Glens Falls Redbirds, Pete would be allowed in the ballpark as long as he behaved himself, which gives a dog a lot of wiggle room right there. He was never to be served beer even if he asked for it. So Dutch and Biddie bought Pete a season’s ticket.
The fans loved the scruffy-looking mutt, the Redbirds tolerated him and the opposing players drove him nuts by barking all the time. (Pitcher Harry Muir from London, Ont. lacked the fastball that would take him to the majors, but his impersonation of a German Shepherd in heat should have earned him a spot on David Letterman’s ‘Stupid Pet Tricks’.)
So the director set up the camera and Dutch and Biddie told me their story. Kneeling in the stands with my head beside the lens, I listened and nodded and when Dutch started wandering off topic, I knew the interview was over. I tapped the cameraman on the knee and the story of the only season-ticket-holding dog in baseball was in the can. It was a nice little nugget of sentiment and eccentricity, exclusive to baseball in small town America. We also got a close-up of the ticket stub tucked neatly in Pete’s collar.
But then Dutch slowly leaned into me and lowered his voice as if he was going to reveal the third and final secret of Fatima.
“You know Bill, when we negotiated that there deal to buy the season ticket,” he said looking around suspicious that others might be listening.
“Yeah,” I replied, now hanging on his every word.
“Well, we worked it out in dog years,” he said giving me a ‘thumbs up.’ “That way we got him the senior citizen’s discount too!”
Just then the umpire yelled “play ball” and everybody, including Pete, the only season-ticket-holding, senior-citizen-discounted dog in the history of baseball, took their seats.
I got the interview, but missed the punchline. And in the end, the director of the film scrapped the whole bit anyway. So for Pete’s sake, learn to live with the fact of life that you never get all you want. Go for it all, settle for half and you’ll always be hitting above average.
For comments and ideas, or a copy
of The Legend of Zippy Chippy,
go to www.williamthomas.ca